The Irrational Purchase of St Emilion

In which Old Parn explores his difficult relationship with authority, his deification of Waitrose, and his peculiar peccadillo for the eponymous Bordeaux sub-region.

Me, holding a bottle of Waitrose St Emilion 2011I have a problem with authority. Yeah, I bleached my hair and defied my school dress code to exactly the calculated degree of defiance that’d piss people off but not get me told off. But that’s not what I mean. I have a problem with being arbitrarily dictated to, sure. But I also have a problem with dictating.

You see, I’m not a rational wine-drinker. And I don’t really know that much about wine.

And I think it might actually be a turding great problem, y’know, that — when writing about wine — there’s a huge pressure to be an authority.

The only context in which we engage with wine opinion, most of us (if we engage with it at all), is a context in which the one with the opinion is authoritative and definite; objective.

But most of our own personal engagements with wine (even — dare I venture? — those of us who write about the fucking stuff) are leagues away from objectivity.

Here’s an example.

I’m, right now, drinking a bottle of Waitrose St Emilion (currently 25% off, making it £9.99). Why am I drinking it? Well. First up, it was on offer. I don’t typically buy wine because it’s on offer (as — working in retail myself — I nurture an informed suspicion of retailers’ motives in discounting). But when it’s a Waitrose own label, I figure that’s okay. Because saying a product is Waitrose own label is a bit like saying a person is Jesus own label.

So, it was on offer. Fine.

I was in the supermarket, at 7pm, buying myself dinner. My stock of wine at home was running low (normal people look in my wine cupboard and laugh incredulously when they see my idea of ‘low stock’. I realise this).

I saw the St Emilion and I picked it up. Why? I’m not sure. Rationally, I wouldn’t tend to buy Bordeaux at £10–15 from a supermarket. I’d calculate that my money would be spent better elsewhere, in terms of the quality of wine I’d probably end up with.

But I didn’t make my decision rationally. I often don’t. This evening, I bought St Emilion because I loved the idea of St Emilion. I love the fucking words St Emilion, alright? I love the fact that it’s characterised as a kind of underdog amidst the Bordeaux sub-regions, in exactly the same irrational way in which I love Armagnac for not being Cognac. I love the way it sounds so much more elegant than Pomerol or Medoc.

I didn’t think (even bearing in mind the discount) that this bottle would be the best way, objectively, of spending my ten quid in Waitrose’s wine department. Honestly, I didn’t care that much.

I wanted the idea of a St Emilion more than I wanted to make an objective decision.

And now that I’m drinking the blighter, I’m at a loss as to whether I should write much more about it. On the one hand, I shouldn’t — because I’m so far from impartial. On the other hand, I should — because I’m so far from impartial.

Y’SEE WHAT I’M SAYING?

We don’t engage with wine in objective ways and situations, unless we’re (a) in a tasting, (b) being asked our opinion in a rather serious manner or (c) the kind of dull wanker who writes a wine blog.

In the same way, we tend to choose the restaurant meal we fancy, rather than the one we judge objectively will be best.

I’m enjoying this St Emilion, incidentally. I’m enjoying it because I’m writing to you about it (natch), and you’re a really great listener. And I’m enjoying it because it’s sort of reminding me of the time when I went to look round a prospective houseshare and one of the people living there was studying for one of the various wine qualifications and was partway through a blind tasting. He gave me a glass of the wine he was trying to identify (which turned out to be a modestly priced generic Bordeaux), and the St Emilion I’m drinking right now sort of reminds me of that.

Which was goddamn ages ago. But the past was quite nice at times. When it wasn’t being almightily tedious.

I’m enjoying it because it’s Friday, and because I had a damn good martini beforehand. And I’m enjoying it because I like the idea that I’m drinking a Waitrose own St Emilion with a chunk of rare meat and a mushroom and onion sauce.

Is it good? I don’t — honestly — care all that much. I mean, it’s not bad. I’d care if it were bad. It’s somewhere between nice and very good, and might even be excellent. But might, after all, just be nice.

I couldn’t give a crap. And I hope that’s alright with you.

Wise up and smell the Casillero del Diablo

In which Old Parn burbles unconvincingly about branding in wine, before drawing some frankly ill-considered analogies and scattering his sheep’s pellets of wisdom in the direction of all who don’t move away quickly enough

Bottle of Casillero del Diablo red wine label

Winemakers, in general, need to wise up. Okay, sure, practically everyone (myself almost certainly included) needs to wise up. But winemakers need to wise up, specifically, because they are lamentably bad at communicating with normal people.

(Notice the ease with which I refer to normal people. Almost as though I knew some.)

Winemakers generally do a shambolic job of any kind of branding or advertising. In fact, a recent study revealed that 76% of actors taking parts in wine adverts subsequently suffered savage assault on grounds including (but not limited to)

  • Their ostentatious clinking of wine glasses
  • Their smug, bastardly laughter
  • Their smarmy hair
  • Generally being goddamn annoying

[Blah, Christforsaken blah. Listen, I’m quite tired, alright, and I’m just writing this because the charming @CuriousWines said something nice about me on Twitter. I have a crick in my neck and everything.]

The point? Oh, right, yeah. The point is that — as Robert McIntosh said, considerably more eloquently, a week or so ago — most winemakers don’t get branding. But one of them seems to have more of a clue:

I like branding. Doesn’t mean I always trust it, by the by. But I like it, and I respect the skill that goes into it.

Anyhow, having read Robert’s piece on the ad, I cracked open a bottle of Casillero del Diablo (albeit not the wines promoted in the ad) I had rolling around in my cupboard. A 2011 Chilean Reserva Malbec.

So. There’s a lot of coffee. Coffee all over the sodding place. Coffee is the first thing that hits you when you snout around in it, and coffee is pretty quick to grab your tastebuds when the wine gets itself into your mouth.

After that, though, it’s surprisingly sharp. A bit like a typical article in Vice Magazine: going out of its way to give an impression of depth, but actually rather harsh and one-dimensional.

TAKE THAT, VICE. YOU JUST GOT ZINGED.

Yeah. It’s not awful, but it’s a shame, nevertheless. And it’s sort of confusing, too — because this isn’t really the kind of wine that feels like it’s come to you from some tepid focus group — all blandness, sweetness, superficial charms. No, it’s a bit too aggressive to be a crowd-pleaser (I’d have thought).

What I’m saying is, I don’t know who’s the, y’know, target audience.

What I do know is that, for the price, there’s better to be had elsewhere. Some old fart will probably say that they should be spending less money on advertising and more money on the wine, I guess. To that old fart, I say: IN THAT CASE, MAKE YOUR OWN WINE AND DISPENSE ENTIRELY WITH THE MUCKY REALITIES OF CAPITALISM, WHY DON’T YOU?

Jesus, a humanoid figure just flew past my window. He seemed to be made of straw. God knows what that was about.

(Boy, how you must’ve missed me.)

Rating ★★ 2 stars (fair)
Wine Casillero del Diablo Malbec 2011 Reserva, Chile
Price £7.99 in Tescos and doubtless similar in many other places

Yeah, it’s been ages. No, I’m not sorry.

Ghemme, Ioppa, 2004. A wine that smells like all those memories you goddamn wish you had. But you don’t. You loser.

Bottle of Ghemme Ioppa with a teapot in the background

Smell. Smell is the most evocative sense, innit? The one that can yank you (via a chance waft of teenage perfume) back to that time when you first kissed that girl. You know. That one. Or to that time when you walked out in the field and the air was heavy with summer and you knew that in two weeks’ time you’d be going into the big school. Or to that time when a dog pissed on your bag.

Yeah. Smell.

So let’s talk about the smell of a wine called Ioppa. I like the fact that it’s called Ioppa, because it sounds like the kind of word a maladroit Italian waiter might exclaim as a plate of food buy clomid online medication slips from his helpless hand and crashes onto the floor.

And I like the fact that it smells a-fucking-mazing.

It smells of sweet, sweet, squashy red fruits, heaped with dark (satanically dark) muscovado sugar. It smells like all those memories you goddamn wish you had. But you don’t. You loser.

Then you drink it. And it slides into your mouth like something that shouldn’t be there but really should. Sinuous and lithe. Before exlopding into soil and life and violence.

It’s powerful, and it is very damn nice. You should probably try it.

It’d give you something to remember.

Rating ???? 4 stars (very good)
Wine Ghemme, Ioppa, 2004
Price £10.95 from The Wine Society

Chivite Gran Feudo 2005 Reserva review

… will make you go Pfooouf

The label of this bottle of Gran Feudo — gold and black lettering, and a dribble of red wine running down it

I wrenched the cork from this blighter and snatched it up to my nose (by now, uncorking and bottle-neck-sniffing form one seamless movement — almost, I like to think, choreographed in its elegance). And — to the empty rooms of Flat 7 — I made a kind of wow-type exclamation.

Actually, to be honest, it probably went something like, ‘Pfooouf!’

(An approbatory ‘Pfooouf!’, though. Not an I-just-smelt-something-a-bit-farmyardy kind of ‘Pfooouf!’. It pays to be clear about these things.)

That’s not to say there’s not a bit of the farmyard about Gran Feudo. Assuming this is a farmyard in which bulls tear up and down and spill dark blood on grey flagstones — rather than some disgusting, spiritually impoverished Bernard Matthews job.

A smokey, inky depth here — from a wine that’s dark, rich, concentrated. It’s like the mixture of blood and sweat in your gob from that fight you just had. But you should’ve seen the other guy.

Oh, yeah, and you could easily keep this wine a while longer and get even more out of it, I reckon.

So. You may’ve gathered, I like red wines like this. Red wines with a bit of earth and blood and soul to them. And I really like the fact that this critter costs a good bit less than a tenner. That, Waitrose, is sodding commendable.

Or, to put it another way, Pfooouf.

Rating ★★★★ 4 stars (very good)
Region Navarra
Grapes Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
ABV 13.5%
Price £8.54 from Waitrose online

Potel Aviron Moulin-a-Vent 2005 review

… triumphantly reminds us that the word ‘fruity’ actually refers to real, honest fruit — not the synthetic sugar-water peddled by oily bell-ends in ugly suits

Label of this bottle of Beaujolais from Moulin a Vent. Simple, text on white

What have we here? A bottle of Beaujolais, yeah. This’n hails from the region of Moulin-a-Vent — one of the ten so-called ‘crus’ (specific small areas of Beaujolais that are classified as the top regions).

Which is all, doubtless, very nice to know.

The reason I mention it, though, is that you may already have an idea what to expect of a nippy little Beaujolais. And this Moulin-a-Vent may upend your expectations.

Because Beaujolais is the Lolita of the red wine world, except (I damn well hope) with a bit less implicit moral degeneracy. We expect a Beaujolais, don’t we, to be consumed in the very bloom of its youth? All flowers and fruits and heady perfume.

But it needn’t always be thus. And this is one wine that you may not want to tip down your gullet before it’s even reached its second birthday.

And so — with the aid of my parents and some damn nice lamb leg steaks — I decided to give this six-year-old a whirl.

And a rather damn good whirl it was, too.

Verdict

First, can I just say: fruit. Fruit. This is what I want to taste when someone tells me a wine is ‘fruity’. I want it to be — like this — as if I’d just crammed my thirsty gob with a handful of sharp, wild berries, picked from, oh, I don’t know, a forest thicket or something. All bright and sharp and savage, the shudder-inducing burst of flavour giving way to the bitter, matt cud of the skins.

That’s fruity. Let us never forget, and allow some oily bell-end in an ugly suit sell us the notion that ‘fruity’ actually means ‘tastes like fucking synthetic fruit-flavoured sugar-water’.

So this is fruity like wild cherries fished from your the pocket of your grandad’s tweed jacket — overlaid with spice and tobacco and polish and leather. Still youthful, oh yes — but this is a kind of autumnal youth, a rustic youth. Not a lab-grown, foetal youth.

I love wine like this — wine that combines a come-and-get-me vitality with a self-confident integrity.

And reminds us that the word fruity belongs to us, to the hedgerows, to the soil — not to some bunch of pink-tied FMCG wankers.

Rating ★★★★ 4 stars (very good)
Region Moulin-a-Vent, Beaujolais
Grape(s) Gamay
ABV 13%
Price £10.99 from The Wine Society (no longer available)

Reserve de la Saurine 2010 Review

… is an honest (if brusque) young peasant of a wine

Marks & Spencer's Reserve de la Saurine. The label depicts a French estate (and a drip of red wine has streaked its way down the paper)

Well, here’s a wine that’s not nearly as bad as I’d feared — and a good deal better than our last disastrous encounter with an M&S ‘dine in for £10’ bottle.

It’s a Rhoney kind of red (not from the Rhone region itself, which doubtless helps keep the price down, but from a satellite region and made from Rhoney grapes Grenache, Carignan and Syrah.)

It’s quite nicely rounded (though that does give way to harshness on the finish), with a tannic weight to it. There’s a bit of a metallic tang to it too, perhaps (surely I can’t be the only one who once sucked on a mouthful of coins as a child? What’s that? I am? Oh shut up.) In other words, it’s the kind of wine you’d describe as rustic. Unpretentious.

An honest, rather brusque, young peasant of a wine.

There’s some fruit, yeah (lucky peasant nabbed himself a punnet of cherries), and a herby, stalky bite. No oak, so it’s fresh and supple.

Verdict

Be warned: the tannic roughness does build up, so it’s probably more of a food-partner than a solo quaffer. All considered, though — the price in particular — it’s not at all bad.

(Still, I wasn’t too heartbroken to consign half of it to my bolognese sauce. These peasants mustn’t be allowed to rise above their station, after all.)

Rating ★★ (2 stars)
ABV 13%
Price £5.99 from Marks & Spencer

Domaine de Mourchon 2005, Seguret, Cotes du Rhone Villages

… will seduce you with a heady waft of fruit, then pull you up, slap you and strap you, look you fucking DEAD in the eye and ask you: ‘Do you think you’re hard enough?’

A closeup of the label of a bottle of Domaine de Mourchon. Relatively modern label design for a Cotes du Rhone, typographic emphasis

I’m sorry, but that was fucking amazing.

Rare, rare — fuck, practically endangered — sirloin steak. Meat so tender its fibres splay apart like fishnet. And a big, chunky Cotes du Rhone. Nothing too venerable or refined — still young enough to play loud music and pout when its parents come and tell it to quiet down.

Something avec spunk.

And Domaine de Mourchon’s got spunk. At the same time as being rather complex. Sure, it may play loud music, but it also surreptitiously reads William Blake and watches film noir.

The combination of spunk and complexity doesn’t always come cheap. But I don’t begrudge a sodding penny of the £14.50 I spent on this wine; nor of the £5 I spent on 200g of the best steak I could find. So take your ‘Dine in for £10’, Marks & Spencer, and stuff it up the rotisserie-ready orifice of your choice. Because I’m dining in for £20 — yeah, just me — and it’s STILL A PRIVILEGE.

Yeah, the wine. That’s what we were talking about, wasn’t it?

So — it’s got that initial jubilant fanfare of blackcurrant that you so often find in new world wines from these grapes (Domaine de Mourchon is made from 60% grenache; 40% syrah) — but, here, that gleeful fruit isn’t allowed to dominate. First of all it’s softened up by a delicious — almost bready — savouriness. Then it’s wrestled to the ground by stern tannins, their muscles laced with dark veins of pepper, spice, wood, leather.

And all the while there’s an alluring slip of aniseed waifing around, smiling coyly, just to confuse you.

Verdict

I don’t know about you, but I go weak and jibbly for wines that seduce me with a heady waft of fruit, then pull me up, slap me and strap me, look me fucking dead in the eye and ask me if I reckon I’m hard enough.

I suspect I’m not hard enough.

But get enough blood-oozing red meat and Domaine de Mourchon down my gullet and I might start to think I am.

Rating ★★★★ (4 stars)
ABV 14.5%
Price £14.50 from The Wine Society

Palataia Pinot Noir 2009 Review

… won’t blast you with fruit & veg like some crazed pyromaniac greengrocer. No; it’s lean, discrete, introverted. And in disguise.

A closeup of the label of Palataia Pinot Noir from Marks & Spencer

A little illustration of wine marketing, here. Look at the label above. Notice something? Or, rather, don’t notice something?

Yeah. We don’t know where this wine comes from. Sure, we know it’s made of Pinot Noir. But nowhere on the label (no, not even in the blurby writeup on the back) does it state its country of origin. No: this is a wine in disguise. It’s adopted a generic, vaguely South American-sounding brand name; our only clue is a mention of the region: Pfalz.

That’s because — yep — it’s a red wine from Germany.

And this fact, alas, is apparently a stigma to rank alongside infection with pneumonic plague.

That’s a shame, that is. Because — on the evidence of this wine — we have nothing to fear.

This is very much an Old World-style Pinot Noir. By which I mean, it’s lean, discrete, introverted. It won’t blast your gob with salvos of fruit and veg, like some rampaging pyromaniac greengrocer. Which is a relief.

Instead, it’s bitter, herbaceous, intensely savoury. It tastes — and feels — distinguished.

It’s not bereft of fruit, by the way. Indeed, to an unusual extent, this is a wine that actually tastes grapey. But I’m talking the whole package: grape skins, grape pips, grape stalks.

Verdict

Not at all bad, then. The wine’s downfall, as far as I’m concerned, is its lack of length: a mouthful is over relatively quickly; it doesn’t linger much. This gives it a tendency towards emptiness on its own, so I’d pair it with food (something simply-cooked, not too bolshy).

But Pinot Noir isn’t easy to produce. Especially in this (far more unforgiving) style. Especially at this price.

Credit to M&S, then, for carrying an unusual, serious, good value wine like this. It’s just a shame it has to appear in disguise.

Rating ★★★ (3 stars)
ABV 13.5%
Price £8.49 from Marks & Spencer

Burgo Viejo Rioja Tinto, Naked Wines

… a Naked wine that’s like silk wrapped around a slightly splintery wooden post. Does that sound sexy to you? Eh?

A bottle of Burgo Viejo Rioja from Naked Wines

Decant! Decant! Decant!

Apologies for that triple imperative — arguably a rather abrupt (if not outright boorish) way to begin a blog post. But if you happen to be in possession of a bottle of this Rioja from Naked Wines, let’s hope you’re also in possession of a decanter.

But before I elaborate, let’s talk a little about Naked Wines, shall we? Because it’s quite a funky idea for a business.

Background: Naked Wines

Essentially, the whole shebang is based on the principle that wine is cheaper the earlier one buys it. The logical extension? You buy up all of a wine before it’s even been made. You are giving the maker the security (so the thinking goes) to spend all their time and money making a good wine. Read more about the business model on their website.

Now, I’m not quite sure what I think about this. On the one hand, it’s an attractively original approach, and fosters engagement between grower and customer; on the other, capitalism is economically dominant for a reason, after all, and an organisation that has to fight for its sales arguably has a greater incentive to strive than one that’s implicitly insured against risk. Does a guaranteed income not potentially lessen the drive for excellence?

But that’s theory. I’m no economist; and, besides, we’re interested — aren’t we? — in practice. So let’s dive into this Rioja.

The review

Okay, so here’s where my opening battlecry of ‘Decant!’ comes in. Because the first mouthful I took of this Naked Rioja was pretty disappointing. Sure, up the snout it has a sweet, enticing, raisiny waft. And sure, my tongue tingled like a fairy on acid — but the taste experience was oddly flat, despite the apparent intensity of the wine, leaving an impression of thinness, hollowness. My palate went largely untouched

And my palate LIKES TO BE TOUCHED, alright?

Enter decanter, stage left. Just as well I had a few thumbs to twiddle while I waited half an hour or so to let oxygen work its magic.

And it was worth twiddling. The wine became noticeably deeper, silkier — filled out, if you will. I’m glad my instincts told me I should try decanting, for I was otherwise poised to give this wine a bit of a belting.

The flavours and aromas (initially underdeveloped) expand to transformative effect. Peppered blackberries (just the way momma made ’em); liquorice. The combination of bitterness and fruit is strikingly like that of biting into a dark, dark chocalate-encased cherry liqueur.

Even after decanting, it’s somewhat austere: spiny, coniferous. In some respects it put me in mind of youthful pinot noir: it has that stalky vigour. That haughtiness. It plays hard to get.

Its bitter roughness, however, isn’t so pinot. I wonder if age would meld these two sides of the wine better? At the moment, it’s like silk wrapped around a slightly splintery wooden post.

(What do you mean, ‘That makes it sound kind of sexy’? Jesus.)

Just because it’s naked doesn’t mean you need to get all pervy about it.

Anyhow, this was the first of my six-bottle ‘trial’ case from Naked Wines. So we shall see how the remaining bottles stack up, shall we? They’re certainly in the game.

Rating ★★★ (but only if you decant it, or let it age a while)
ABV 13%
Price £7.99 from Naked Wines (though if you join as a Naked Wine Angel, you get 33% off all the wines)

Balgownie Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005

… will put you on a level with Vladimir Putin — or else leave you yearning for a cellar

A bottle of Balgownie Estate Cab Sauv

We all have our own milestones in life.

Some people tell themselves they’ll have made it when they finally get that bmw they’ve always lusted after; others, when they have their first child. Or their first million. For other people still, their life truly attains meaning only once they have undertaken a stage-managed execution of a large predatory beast that, thanks to odds stacked monumentally in its disfavour, has absolutely no fucking chance of defending itself.

(Ah! To be a True Man!)

But I? I, dear reader, am — relatively speaking — humility itself.

I tell myself that I’ll have made it when I have my own cellar.

NO, NOT IN A JOSEF FRITZL KIND OF WAY, YOU ABSOLUTE FUCKING MESS. GET OUT NOW.

Unfortunately, see, Old Parn is forever schlepping his arse from one rented hovel to the next. And the rented hovels of Oxford, it seems, are low on cellars.

(They are also, FYI, low on pianos. Irrelevant but true.)

The point? For, of course, there is always a point, my pretties, isn’t there? Yah. The point is that the very best place for the above-depicted bottle of Balgownie Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 would be a cellar.

A cellar. Alongside 11 other bottles of Balgownie Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, if you please.

Because this is a wine I have done something of a disservice by killing before its prime (and, seamlessly, we’re back to Vladimir Putin again). In 5–10 years, it’ll be fucking delicious. No mistake.

Right now, it’s formidable — commingling fruit and wood and frost and metal. Bracing stuff. In the same way that rugby on a frost-hardened pitch in mid-January was (apparently) also bracing.

As you’d expect (if you’ve been paying attention so far, not allowing your mind to wander to fleeting visions of the Russian President’s naked torso), there’s a welter of tannin going on in this mouthful, which gives it more backbone than a frigging brontosaurus.

It filleth thy gob.

There’s pepper and, yeah, fat juicy black olives squished between the back of your tongue and the roof of your mouth. That bit where it’s all slimy and squishy. Yes, right there. But don’t keep poking around, alright? You’ll only make yourself sick.

What else? In the catalogue of flavours (never convinced how interesting this is to read, but still) we have ticks next to liquorice, parma violet and young sour blackberries.

Sniff (if you dare) and you’re hit with that huge, almost impenetrable board-pen smell. Well, obviously it doesn’t actually smell like a board-pen. That would be horrible, and this is, in fact, lovely. But you know how a board-pen’s smell absolutely fills up your whole nasal world and makes you almost cry with the intensity of it?

(NO I HAVE NOT BEEN ABUSING SOLVENTS.)

Well, this is like that in its intensity. Dude.

The length is great, the balance is great. The wine is powerful, matt, complex.

All great, then. And drinking it right now, I’d give it three solid, solid stars. If that’s what you’re going to do, then you should definitely decant the old boy well in advance to let him breathe and relax a little. To, um, massage that huge backbone a little, y’know.

But, oh sweet messiah, how those three stars would multiply (I have no doubt) after a good few years in the quiet, the cool, the dark.

A good few years in my non-existent cellar, in other words.

In anticipation of which, I’m upping the rating to 4. But only if you’re patient.

Verdict

Well, you big smug cellar-owning bastard, buy a case of it then, why don’t you? Leave a comment with a link to a photo of it in your goddamn cellar, alongside you, smirking like a fat little oik.

I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY NOW.

Rating ★★★★ (but only ★★★ if, like me, you persist in drinking it now)
ABV 14%
Price £13.50 from The Wine Society, £15.99 from Marks & Spencer.